My headlining gig at The Monday Club has been cancelled. I was looking forward to that. Disappointing.
But perhaps it’s fortunate; I don’t have much time for comedy at the moment. My main focus is on my parents who are getting to the age where it is my role to look after them rather than the other way around. “It happens to us all,” as sympathetic people have been telling me.
It’s a difficult and rather depressing thing. And given my stand-up sets are usually just a comedic translation of whatever is happening in my life, whether that’s ex-girlfriends seeing people who are clearly better than me or my kidneys being knackered, I have a dilemma as to whether to try and talk about my parents’ situation on stage. Occasionally, I vent at a smaller gig. This Sunday, my Mum went into hospital after having a fall in the home and at the same time Southern Gas Networks were digging up the road and turning off the gas for repairs which left my seventy-something Dad, on his own, without heating that cold autumn evening.
Lots of frantic phone calling ensued. Trying to keep tabs on Mum and contact the right gas people (the guy on site had given us a number to get a number rather than just telling us to… oh, I’m exasperated just trying to talk about it) and by the evening, Mum was back and the heating was on. I went off to a local gig and did my usual hilarious schtick but added a bit in the middle about the gas/parent problems of the afternoon, knowing it wasn’t necessarily a subject for comedy, but noting the irony that Southern Gas Networks had chosen to celebrate Remembrance Day by digging a trench.
No, it didn’t get much of a laugh there either.
But I then acknowledged I’d “dug myself into a hole” and that did get a laugh. So, as is symptomatic of my congenital comedy awesomeness, the audience were in a safe hands.
This year has been pretty dominated by my parents’ situation. Although they have been getting older for some time (as, in fact, we all are) it felt like the onus fell on me to look after them from the day after Christmas, when my Mum tried to make a cup of tea and set fire to her hair on the gas hob. I was visiting at the time and ended up at Salisbury Hospital with her, where she stayed in the Burns Unit and I stayed in a bungalow provided by the “League of Friends”.
Which sounds like the worst league of superheroes ever, doesn’t it? “Hey, don’t rob that bank! Let’s go for a drink instead.”
My mum is ten years younger than my Dad but in a much worst state as she is affected by something called Pick’s disease which is similar to Alzheimer’s and is caused by “rogue proteins” in the brain (“This protein’s gone rogue! Call the League of Friends!”) As a result, she can no longer talk or eat and has gotten to be rail thin. She can only talk via a “Light Writer” – a typewriter with a voice synthesizer that makes her sound like Stephen Hawking. Except instead of saying anything profound about the nature of the universe, she says things like, “The cat is being silly.”
But then, to be fair, it was.
It was traumatic during the days when I unexpectedly found myself loitering around Salisbury Hospital. But I could still raise the odd laugh from Mum. I dashed off every few days to Portsmouth to check on Dad who was on his own in the house being diabetic and attempting to look after himself. I even managed to get back to Brighton to see my girlfriend for New Year’s Eve. But each time I was leaving or returning to Mum in her hospital bed, we shook hands in an overly formal way which became a running joke of the visit.
Since returning home, she has had a feeding peg fitted which means she can be fed “smoothies” directly into her stomach and carers come in to visit them every day. Over the year, both parents have had, sometimes planned, sometimes sudden and unexpected, trips to hospital, leaving the other stranded. I have been trying to look after them as best I can whilst holding down the day job, and eking out a comedy career which has rapidly fallen down the priority list.
We have had numerous conversations and meetings with Social Workers, and Doctors, and Occupational Therapists, and Carers, and District Nurses… And one of the continuing problems is that my parents are very stubborn and independent and they DON’T want help. So even if you get through all the bureaucracy to get someone to see them, they will then say “No” to whatever is being offered.
“Don’t worry about us. We’re fine.”
They are not. This Monday morning, the day after my Mum fell and I had done that gig, I got a call from my Dad saying Mum had fallen again. She was being taken back to hospital. More frantic phone calls and we arranged for both of them to go into a nursing hospice thing for a bit to recuperate and have a sort of “holiday”. It also means one of them isn’t left stranded and I have time to think of a better, longer term solution than just returning them to the house where they insist they want to be.
I have spent the year doing what I can and trying to respect their wishes and everything but we can’t go on like this, constantly in waiting for the next crisis to occur. So this is what I am thinking about at the moment.
As to whether I will talk about it on stage. I probably will, from time to time, as stand-up is a form of expression and this is all that is on my mind. But I recognise it might not be material that will become “bankers” in my “set” that people will “laugh at”. And there is a time and place for it, of course.
So, let me just reassure you, dear reader, as this is probably causing you some concern, that had I been headlining at the Monday Club it would have been 100% gold: Just the toppermost, guaranteed hits.
The point is that this blog is also an expression of where my mind is at and though I haven’t been trying to “comedy up” the subject… well, it is what it is. It happens to us all.
All the best and love to you and yours.